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Bashing the system or the manager

By Walter Broeckx

I think I have said before that I am not a master tactician. One has to know one’s limitations and even in my playing days I never was one to listen to all the blah blah from managers. And even now I couldn’t care one bit if Arsenal play 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 or whatever other system that exists and can be used.

What interests me in football players is their technical skills, their running with and without the ball, a dribble, a nice passing move, the one-two that splits a defence,  a wonderful goal…That is what makes me enjoy football most. And I know that lots of that is only possible when a team is employing the right tactics as the manager has told them to use. But I just don’t care about what is behind it. I just enjoy the final result that can be seen on the pitch.

In fact the only time I get interested in tactics is when it us being used to slag off Wenger. I will never really go that way because I admit I am not an expert and I admit that I wouldn’t know how to set up a team and what tactics should be used before a match.

I can see when a tactic has worked when the match is over. Or not. But who am I to say what a manager should have done in order to win a match when it didn’t work out? Sometimes it didn’t work out as planned because of the bad execution of the plan, some players having a bad day, a referee doing what he shouldn’t be doing…. And then I can step in and use my expertise on the refereeing matter of course. As that is something I know and can give my view on this with real expertise.

Now we all know that the zonal marking system has been used by Arsenal for a few seasons. Don’t ask me since when as I don’t follow that at all. “Just keep the ball out” is my tactical concept and I don’t give a damn if it is done by zonal marking or by man marking.  That is for the specialists.

But some of those specialists tell me that zonal marking is a walking disaster. It is terrible and it shows how outdated Wenger is. The other day I was watching MOTD on Sunday. My digital box records every MOTD episode but I usually don’t bother to watch as I am also not interested in what the pundits say. Certainly when they talk about referee decisions. That makes me angry, cry, and fall on the floor laughing from some of the idiocy on display. And sometimes all at the same moment.

But by accident I saw a stat flashing on my TV about Stoke conceding from set pieces. Set pieces like corners, indirect free kicks. And that made me wonder as they said that Stoke let in most goals from such match incidents this season.

And also it seems last season they were bad at it.

Now I might be wrong but I thought they had conceded 13 (or 11) goals in that way. And then I watched how they defended and then I saw that they work the man marking system. And a very strict man marking at times as they most of the time are hanging all over the striker they are marking.  All those big lumps of Stoke hanging on to the strikers of other teams like rain coats.

We all know that Arsenal uses zonal marking to defend such corners. And every time we concede a goal from such a situation and certainly if it involves dropping points we get the debate about the zonal marking. And how bad it is and how Wenger should change it but he will not do it because he is stubborn and blah… you know what they say.

But when viewing MOTD I started to get curious. Seeing that Stoke with their man marking conceded 13 (or 11) goals from set pieces and that man marking was far better than zonal marking I started thinking about how many goals Arsenal had conceded from such situations. And I went on a search. A painful search of course as I try to forget goals against Arsenal as quickly as possible as they hurt.

But I went on a count and I found that we conceded from corners and indirect free kicks against Crystal Palace, Manchester City, Stoke (albeit after a foul that was not given), Newcastle and Liverpool. So that is 5 goals we conceded. And Stoke has conceded if we take the 11 (I really cannot remember it sorry) that means that Stoke has conceded more than the double of what Arsenal conceded.  And the difference in goals conceded in total is rather small. Arsenal let in 25 goals so far and Stoke 27.

So in other words our zonal marking let in half of the goals that way than the man marking from Stoke.

And then we come to what I usually say when things go wrong on the football field: it is all down to the players on the pitch to get it right. Each system will have its good and bad points. But the most important thing is how the humans behave. And that is for me what makes football such an exciting game. Mistakes will be made because players are human. And as long as no player deliberately makes a mistake (we don’t call it a mistake anymore at that time of course) I will not be that upset. I make mistakes (I couldn’t even remember if it was 11 or 13 goals conceded); we all make mistakes.

But trying to bash Wenger for the zonal marking when our unfit, lightweight, no good defenders only concede half the goals from dead balls compared to the fit, able, giant defenders from Stoke looks a bit dumb to me.

Suddenly I seem to remember that Stoke let in 48% of their goals from dead balls this season as one of the numbers that was given during MOTD.  So for Arsenal this would have been 20%. So what’s best? Zonal marking? Man Marking? Or as it would be for me: just be sure you are first to the ball. That would be my marking system.

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Classic Untold

23 comments to Bashing the system or the manager

  • nicky

    @Walter,
    My beady eye will be fixed on Bale from now on.
    Your promise that he will join Arsenal in due course is both exciting…..and a trifle reckless, if I might say so. 😉

  • WalterBroeckx

    Nicky, 2 summers ago we bought one from Real Madrid we couldn’t afford before
    Last summer we bought someone from Barcelona we couldn’t afford before
    Next summer who knows… 😉

  • rantetta

    I loved the way Kos touched the ball to Alexis and then ran to find space. Alexis then put the ball on Kos’s head. One nil, to the football team.

    Walter, you’re right to point out the man to man marking employed by uber Orc FC. That team lacks anything positive. Indeed, they’re the epitome of negativity.

    Speaking of negativity, why did MOTD have Barton as a poodit? This is a person who beat the shit out of a man and went to prison for it, and prior to that he stubbed a cigar in a young kids eye, and busted up someone else’s eye, and the list goes on and on. Violence all the way. And on the pitch, Barton specialised in smashing Arsenal’s players. Pure violent thuggery.

    So did you notice that Barton introduced a piece on how to stop Alexis. Of course, it was basically “kick him”. The VT showed every kick Alexis has received this season in a montage of violence and passed it up as the correct and legitimate way to go about things.

    Would the BBC employ a black footballer who had an history of kicking players on the pitch, and was a convicted for his violence off the pitch?
    How is Barton in a position to show the thuggery meted onto Arsenal players and talk over it as though he’s some reasonable chap?

    Does Man Marking mean planting your studs and elbows into Arsenal’s players? I think we should be told.

  • majorjoe

    hi always read and enjoy your post,however are we not feeding the enemy with your observations.

  • John

    There is little doubt that Stoke’s version of man-marking involves leaving marks on the man.

  • ZOON

    The point you make is ridiculous why would you compare Arsenal to Stoke? Stoke have ambition to finish in the middle of the table every year and have a budget to match that. Arsenal hope to finish at the top of the table and have a budget to match that.

    You would expect Stoke to concede more goals than Arsenal in every facet of the game and if they didn’t there manager would be doing a marvellous job.

  • Menace

    The BBC have lost their moral standing & have deviated to the worst in society to front their shows. I wont go into detail because it can be offensive. However, suffice it to say the language spoken by the BBC is no longer the Queens English. The presenters are no longer clean family oriented people.

    The use of poor examples of humanity as pundits shows the level our TV licence fee has sunk.

    Coming back to the game, Stoke were holding on to Arsenal players like there was a sunami approaching. Kos was red carded earlier in the season for just such behaviour but Stoke have special privileges. The system used by Arsenal allows the defender to cover an area & not necessitate the ‘love making’ that Stoke resorts to.

    I do however, like the man on the post when defending corners. It reduces the size of the goal that the keeper needs to protect. There is also the need to prevent attackers from running in, to jump, so the defenders need to assess where the ball is arriving & block off access to attackers while giving the keeper room to catch or punch the ball.

    Systems are as good or bad as the team work that manifest them.

    There are some aspects of the game that need comment, & that is the beauty of Alexis’ play. He has started using the ‘false’ look to wrong foot the opponent before a pass. In the Stoke match, his wonderful goal was an example of wrong footing the defense. Alexis has been showing the imaginary card a few times in his play, particularly when the foul is blatant. He needs to change that to applause of the culprit. That way the crows will be shown up & will struggle to find an excuse to book him. After the match Alexis’ team mates can tell the interviewers the reason for the applause.

    Alexis in his sporting appreciation has given the thumbs up to an opponent. He has shown what a great sportsman he is. Arsenal can be proud of our team & our number 17.

  • apo Armani

    About Alexis; his first goal vs the ‘butchers’ epitomizes the way he plays (swift one/two followed by a wise ‘hurdle-style’ hop, smartly avoiding an incoming two-footed tackle by Schawcross (if I am not mistaken)…the rest we all know (keeper beaten in his near post)!

    When we have all our starting 11 fit and up to speed, the system works just fine. Thats why PGMOLis so keen on disrupting our system by allowing judo football against us!

  • Ben

    I agree with you almost completely Walter, no system is proven to be better than the other.its all about the execution,and selecting a system that best suits the players at the club. where I disagree with you is in comparing our defence with there stoke counterparts because of the difference in quality.Our defence should concede less goal than stoke even if we are playing there system because we have better players

  • WalterBroeckx

    But ZOON, our defence is the worst in PL history they tell us. It’s not even mid table standards some say. Maybe you are one of them?

  • Tom

    Very interesting article.
    I happen to think that man to man marking is exactly the wrong option for a team like Stoke , who are probably the tallest and one the more physical teams in the PL. One of the down sides of the man to man system is that more times than not , the defending players are so busy grappling and holding on to players they are marking, that they don’t pay attention to where the ball is being delivered to. This leads to Stoke players often colliding with each other and being out of position.

    Unlike Arsenal ,who only have three or four tall players on the pitch at any given time and they have to place them strategically, Stoke have six to eight. It would be much easier for them to cover all danger areas inside the box.

    As I said before, I’m not against zonal marking employed by Arsenal, but I believe it could work better in tandem with delegating one or two players to pay special attention to the biggest scoring threats on opposing teams.

    You can’t allow a situation where you have a Brede Hengeland or a Martin Skirtel have a free run on goal , with no one laying a hand on them.

    Whether that’s down to a manager’s oversite or a player’s missed assignment, is another thing entirely.
    I wouldn’t change the system but I would tweak it a bit.

  • jambug

    Walter.

    I debated this a couple of months ago on here.

    Similar to yourself I was pointing out how every time we concede from a set piece the ‘Zonal marking’ issue raises it’s head.

    Pundits, commentators and journalists (I use that term in the loses possible sense) all seem to have an issue with it. It seems every time a set piece goal is scored against a team defending ‘zonally’ whether it’s us or anyone else, it gets a battering.

    But strangely, whenever a team concedes a set piece goal defending ‘man for man’ that term is NEVER uttered.

    Take Sunday, despite the highlighting of Stokes poor record defending set pieces I didn’t hear the term ‘man for man’ mentioned once. I may be wrong, but I certainly never heard it.

    I, like yourself Walter, have as little knowledge of tactics as yourself. but I will say this. If the referees did there job, ‘man to man’ would be a disaster. Because as far as I can see the only way it can work is if you grab your opponent in a bear hug and then hang on to him for dear life as he tries to avoid your attentions.

    IF the laws of the game where applied correctly at corners and free kicks, eventually nobody would mark ‘man for man’ because you have to cheat to make it work.

    Fortunately for some, referees seem utterly incapable of applying the laws of the game, so why this continues the ‘bear huggers’ and ‘man to man’ will continue to thrive.

  • finsbury

    “Would the BBC employ a black footballer who had an history of kicking players on the pitch, and was a convicted for his violence off the pitch?”

    The graceful and dignified Paul Davis was never called up for England or called into the plundits studio, and he did less the likes of Barton off he pitch and far far more upon it.

    Perhaps he had the wrong agent 😉
    Unlike the former Marseille man and plundit extraordinaire?

    It is, what it is.

    PD may not have got a cap but he is a hero and inspiration to many. Not just for his footy but for the content of his character.

    Definitely not a Lily livered Mendes Mule like Mmmmmmm….Mangala or…heh…Falcao!

    It’s a funny old game.

  • WalterBroeckx

    By the way good to read that TH calls out the idiots that abused Wenger in Stoke last month.

    Funny songs? He reads Untold, he reads Untold, Tierry Henry, he reads Untold… 🙂

  • Pete

    Interesting debate.

    Kos’s goal was, I think, directly related to MtM. Kos drew the defender out as he retrieved the ball. If the defender had turned promptly he would have had his back to the ball as he followed Kos back in – which is not a good thing. Therefore he was out of position. As all the other defenders had stayed with their man Kos was unmarked.

    This emphasises one of the broader drawbacks of MtM marking – the defenders are so focused on their man that they lose track of the ball. (In theory) they are also more likely to give away penalties – although that rarely happens.

    I think zonal is better for a team like us with fewer taller players. I also note that Gibbs has been dropping back to inside the near post now after the unfortunate recent incident.

    As I have mentioned previously, Arsenal had an exceptionally good record defending set pieces last season. It has deteriorated a little this time round – but I think a lot of that is due to the continued chopping and changing in the defence (and with Giroud/Welbeck being out too at various times).

  • porter

    : just be sure you are first to the ball. That would be my marking system.

    That line in itself sums up the argument. Zonal works if someone attacks the ball . Too often we don’t ! we put a tall man on the corner of the six yard box and put Mert and Kos in the middle which leaves us with anomalies like Sanchez marking a 6 foot plus player’s space. Whilst our players are static a moving man will always get the jump on them .

  • Jammy J

    When a goal is conceded from using zonal-marking, the system is blamed; when a goal is conceded using man-marking, the man is blamed.

  • jambug

    Jammy J

    “When a goal is conceded from using zonal-marking, the system is blamed; when a goal is conceded using man-marking, the man is blamed.”

    That is ‘word for word’ what I said when I was debating this a couple of Months ago.

    Did you remember or is it a coincidence?

    Not bothered just wondered because that’s spooky !!

  • Alex

    @ rantetta
    January 14, 2015 at 9:22 am
    I second to that.

    Question is what the club do about it ???

  • Quincy

    Absolutely, most people only bring up ‘tactics’ when they want something with which to bash Wenger. All the intellectual guff around Tactics makes the critics look like they know what they’re on about and in the eyes of some makes them look intellectually superior.

    Without wanting to falling into that trap myself 😀 the biggest problem with man marking is that if one person looses their marker it can be disastrous. Zonal marking is harder to implement and requires the defenders to be alert all the time. As you say, each system has its good and bad points, and it’s more about how it’s implemented than anything else. If refs actually did something about wrestling in the box, we might see fewer teams using man marking.

  • bob mac

    Walter, unlike you I am almost obsessed with the tactical and technical part of the game.

    The how and why, I find intriguing.

    Should you wish me to send an article explaining the differences/benefits of zonal and man to man I would certainly oblige.

    You have my e-mail, just let me know.

  • Micheal Ram

    I think this debate about MtM and zonal marking is misleading. Most teams actually practice both at the same time in defending corners. Defenders mark out potential dangermen while others will usually just try to clear the ball from strategic location. Man marking not only requires strength and height but also intelligence and anticipation. But then again, zonal marking also requires the same mode. As a former defender, I can safely say that MtM and zonal can applied together with good effect, only depends on the type of players we have. Though our defenders are not beast like, they are more technically proficient on possession which allows the whole team in control of the ball which means less pressure on defense. The presence of Giroud and Welbeck does help the defense a lot while defending corners, however the balance of the team in general is more important than anything else. The ‘Invincibles’ were not without flaws, but the balance were perfect. Their teamwork and understandings were unparalleled. And it took AW many years, many attempts to hit the key right. Since these two years of non-financial restrictions, AW able to get players he wants. Just give him time, he will find the perfect balance again.

  • Sleekwhale

    Perfect piece, I must say. It looks like the master stroke will be to practice a system more and more until the players become ‘perfect’. TH just still loves Arsenal n AW.